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Tea Leaves

Indonesia embraces best and avoids worst of 'Bali model'

Jakarta pins hopes on Lake Toba for a new model of sustainable tourism

It is easy to feel a little superior when you think you have discovered a tourist destination that is off the regular track, and that was how my family felt about the ocean-blue waters of Lake Toba. (Photo by John Duerden).

Most of the 260,000 foreign tourists who visited North Sumatra in the pre-pandemic year of 2019 arrived at the international airport at Medan, the island's biggest city and the biggest Indonesian metropolis not located on Java, the country's most populated island. From the airport, it is at least a four-hour drive along bumpy roads from there to Lake Toba, one of the most beautiful places in one of Asia's most beautiful countries.

Visitors often find themselves wishing that the journey was shorter and less arduous. But they should be careful what they wish for. A shorter route has been promised for more international arrivals, with the expansion of a small airport on the southern shores of the lake. In 2019, it was announced that annual passenger capacity would double to 1 million passengers a year by 2021, which would imply multiple international flights daily. There were just three a week when I visited in late 2019.

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